Modern Family doesn’t get any points for doing something new, but it gets a lot of points for doing things right. The Emmy Award-winner for Best Comedy gives ABC its first bona fide comedy hit in a long time, and though it has the trappings of a “modern” sitcom, it excels thanks to the fundamentals — solid sitcom set-ups, fleshed-out characters, and a cast without a weak spot to be found.
Modern Family exists in mockumentary format, but it almost seems like an afterthought much of the time. There’s no rationale given for the talking heads or presumed camera crew, and that ensures that the show doesn’t get bogged down in tiresome meta self-reflexivity.
It also helps that the show doesn’t feel it needs to make a big deal over the non-traditional families it features. Sure, the title of the show references that fact, but creators Stephen Levitan and Christopher Lloyd have left it at that, giving room for the characters to breathe as actual humans, not symbols of multiculturalism.
The patriarch of the family, Jay Pritchett (Ed O’Neill) has remarried the much younger Gloria (Sofia Vergara), with whom he’s raising her son, Manny (Rico Rodriguez). His son, Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) has recently adopted a Vietnamese baby with partner Cameron (Eric Stonestreet), while his daughter Claire (Julie Bowen) is married to Phil (Ty Burrell), and they have three kids, Haley, Alex and Luke (Sarah Hyland, Ariel Winter, Nolan Gould).
With the large ensemble cast, it’s kind of astonishing how each actor is given plenty of room to shine and how perfectly suited each one seems to the part. It’s difficult to choose highlights, but it is wonderful to see O’Neill back on a television sitcom, here portraying a character certainly more compassionate than Al Bundy, but with enough of a grumpy streak to retain some of that ragged charm. Also fantastic is Stonestreet, who won an Emmy for his work, and is the perfect foil for Ferguson, all unbridled optimism rubbing against a wall of self-respectability.
Burrell, who was one of the few good things about Levitan and Lloyd’s last effort — the poorly executed Back to You, is the perfect combination of the clueless, smarmy, and caring father, while Bowen manages to lend a lot of nuance to a character that could’ve turned into a shrewish bitch really fast.
It’s also worth noting that the children’s roles aren’t throwaways like they often become in these kinds of shows, and Rodriguez certainly stands out for his spot-on precociousness that is endlessly funny.
Modern Family entered a crowded sitcom field filled with old stalwarts and strong upstarts, but it’d be hard to say there was a better comedy than it this past season.
The Complete First Season set contains all 24 episodes spread across four discs. A number of episodes come with deleted or alternate scenes as well as deleted talking heads. One of the best extras is a featurette on the genesis of the show, which reveals a number of moments to be taken directly from the creators’ own lives.
In the making-of department, two featurettes focus on specific episodes, “Family Portrait” and “Hawaii.” A short piece reveals what many of the actors worked on before Modern Family and Stonestreet’s past gets examined further in a featurette about the clown character that appears in the show and that he has performed for many years.
Rounding out the extras is the requisite gag reel.
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